Beliefs and Values in Science Education

By Michael Poole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Wanted! Alive or dead
– environmental beliefs and values

What is it that is wanted? The answers people give are sometimes pragmatic ones, such as wanting the environment to be self-sustaining and renewable. These wants may express aesthetic factors like 'preserving the beauty of the countryside', while others may include both practical and aesthetic considerations like wanting to 'preserve endangered species'. Underlying these various wants, explicitly or implicitly, are beliefs and value judgements, which is what this chapter is about. To illustrate this, the chapter is structured around a provocative and hard-hitting paper which has since stimulated many debates about beliefs and the environment. It was given by Lynn White, Professor of History at the University of California, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

What people do about their ecology depends on
what they think about themselves in relation to
things around them. Human ecology is deeply
conditioned by beliefs about our nature and des-
tiny – that is, by religion.

Lynn White1

White's statement emphasises a recurring theme of this book, that it is people's world-views, their interpretations of the world, which shape their perceptions of desirable courses of action. Chapter 3 indicated how world-views affect the choice of preferred models, organismic or mechanistic, of the world. So, is the world best conceived of as 'alive', as some people now claim in the name of Gaia, or as 'dead'?2 World-views are particularly

Fig. 4.1 'THE GROUND IS CONTAMINATED
… LANDING IS PROHIBITED' – Gruinyard
Island, recently reopened, was used for anthrax
experiments during World War II

evident about the environment, one of five National Curriculum cross-curricular themes.

Beliefs about the environment take a number of different forms. Some people believe in the concept of wilderness, advocating a return to some primeval state, unsullied by Homo sapiens. Those who do so are not usually keen to forfeit the benefits of modern health care and civilisation in the process. Such is the preservationist agenda, concerned with saving (species and wilderness) from destruction. Then there is the conservationist agenda, concerned with saving such commodities

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